Antisocial Personality Disorder: Demon Doctors
This is my second article in the series on antisocial personality disorder, which because of my unduly sloth has not been completed yet. The first post can be found by clicking on the link below:
Those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (APD), a diagnosis that carries with it a lot of controversy, are characterized as being impulsive and highly aggressive. Mental deficiencies heat up a lot of polemic today, as it happens in most of the cases involving the gruesome shooting of a famous individual, such as Gabrielle Giffords. Occasions like the one that happened Jan. 8 create in some individuals enough hindsight bias to allow them to put a psychiatrist’s cap and assert with confidence, “All signs showed that he was a wannabe criminal.” Surely, we often meet eccentric individuals whose behavioral is a bit asocial, but must we really be so quick to conclude that a person with interrelationships problems has psychological difficulties? For now, lets focus on our four high-profile demon doctors:
Dr. Henry Howard Holmes (his real name was Henry Mudgett) is considered the first serial killer in the US. He is known for opening a hotel south of Chicago that was nicknamed the Castle. From an early age he had a fascination with surgery, so he enrolled at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, where he stole stole bodies from the laboratory, which he latter disfigured, so that he could claim insurance on the allegedly accidental deaths. After finishing medical school, he sent his wife back to his birth-town, New Hampshire, and sought employment in Illinois at a druggist. The druggist, Dr. Holton, at that time was severely ill with cancer, so his wife, a future widow, was glad for the help that Holmes offered. Later he proposed to Mrs. Holton, now alone and despondent, to buy the store. She accepted on the condition that she be allowed to live on the second floor of the building where the pharmacy was located. Shortly, however, she mysteriously disappeared, and no one thought to question Holmes extensively about her quick departure. After that he bought some land across the street from the drugstore, where under a close supervision he build his own castle of horrors. He made sure that the workers he hired would not stay on the job for more than a week, so that the layout of the building would not create any suspicion. The Castle was three stories high. The first floor was left for exclusive shops, while the upper floors and the basement were entwined with mazes, secret hallways, trap doors, stairs leading to nowhere, and gas pipes attached to a control panel in Holmes’ bedroom. The basement had an acid tank, a dissecting table, and a crematorium. In his Castle it is rumored that Holmes killed more than 200 victims, while he admitted during the trial to 27 murders. Holmes behavior was particularly gruesome. He is the prototype killer, to whom the prospect of dying did not bring fear. A very well written and chilling article about him can be found here.
Dr. Shiro Ishii, a graduate of Kyoto Imperial University, has been involved with a large group of scientists in creating biological weapons. His story and the story of the Unit 731, a facility he helped create, is not very well known. Japan even today downplays its crimes against humanity during the Second World War, and after an agreement between America and Japan, most of the atrocities committed at Unit 731 have largely been covered up. Unit 731 was a concentration camp in Pingfang, whose purpose was to develop biological weapons. Ishii had absolute rule over all the dealings in the Unit 731 and several other similar units in the region, and he was the one who largely orchestrated unwarranted experiments:
When he [Ishii] wanted a human brain to experiment on, guards grabbed a prisoner and held him down while one of them cleaved open his skull with an axe. The brain was removed and rushed to Ishii’s laboratory.
They [prisoners]were exposed to phosgene gas to discover the effect on their lungs, or given electrical charges which slowly roasted them. Prisoners were decapitated in order for Japanese soldiers to test the sharpness of their swords. Others had limbs amputated to study blood loss – limbs that were sometimes stitched back on the opposite sides of the body. Other victims had various parts of their brains, lungs or liver removed, or their stomach removed and their oesophagus reattached to their intestines.
Other experiments involved hanging prisoners upside down to discover how long it took for them to choke to death, and injecting air into their arteries to test for the onset of embolisms. Some appear to have had no medical purpose except the administering of indescribable pain, such as injecting horse urine into prisoners’ kidneys. (Source)
The exact number of people who died either because of experimentation or because of the germ warfare is unknown, but estimates range from 200,000 to 580,000 people. After the war was over, Ishii was acquitted and many scientists at the Unit 731 went on to prominent careers, all in exchange for the data on biological weapons that Americans desperately wanted. He died of throat cancer in his home prefecture at the age of 69. More info on him can be found here.
Dr. Linda Hazzard, also known as the starvation doctor, is famous for her ‘starvation cures, which she declared could cure “anything from toothache to tuberculosis.” Needless to say, such cures had an aversive effect on her patients, and she knew how to make a profit out of it, either by appropriating their property while they were in her supervision or by demanding high fees. Hazzard had a large popularity among her followers, mainly because starvation cures were relatively common at that time (an old-fashioned counterpart to homeopathy, heh?). Her scheme was simple. She would advertise her treatments in a newspaper or through her book, which usually convinced some individuals to come to her and seek help for their ailments. After that she put her patients in shabby hotels or shacks, took their property, either forcefully or through subversive means, managed to obtain the power of attorney over their lives, and made them undergo a cruel treatment, which involved eating nothing but low-calorie broth, painful enemas, and pummeling (i.e., beating her fists against the patients’ foreheads and backs ). The unfortunate part was the lack of intervention:
The health director of Seattle said he couldn’t intervene, since Dr. Hazzard was licensed and the patients were willing participants in her deadly therapy. She had many loyal followers, and a commanding personality. Some of her patients were afraid of her, and couldn’t bring themselves to disobey her. But the health director did keep an eye on her in case she treated any children, at which point he said he would step in. (source)
She was eventually convicted for manslaughter and sentenced to Washington State Penitentiary. Her sentence didn’t last long because she was released on parole after two years and received pardon Governor Ernest Lister. Once out, she went with her husband to New Zealand and continued practicing quackery. The total number of victims that died because of her treatments is unknown.
As his name suggests, Petiot was born in France. He served in the French Infantry during WWI. Throughout his early life, from adolescence to his service in the military, he was diagnosed as having a variety of mental illnesses. However, the certitude of his mental instability was not verified, since most accounts started to surface after he became a notorious serial killer, and it is hard in these circumstances to decipher what accounts are due to hindsight bias or objective recording. After the war he completed the medical school and became an intern at a mental hospital. Later he was involved in over-prescribing drugs and fraud. During WWII Petiot assumed an alias, “Dr. Eugene,” who provided “safe” passage for those in the German occupied France for a fee of 25.000 francs. All his clients were given lethal injections, and the bodies were stored in a quick lime pit and later burned in a furnace. His capture was largely due to his miscalculation:
The crimes of Dr Petiot came to light when he discovered that burying the bodies in a pit of quicklime was not dissolving the bodies as he had expected it to. So he started to burn the bodies in the building’s furnace, then left the building. The burning produced a lot of greasy black foul-smelling smoke, which on 11th March 1944 the neighbours complained about it. When the police arrived they discovered the chimney was on fire. It was the fire brigade therefore who discovered the source of the fire. (Source)
Eventually, he was arrested on October 1944 and charged with 26 murders. He confessed to only 19 of them, although the body count was in the 60s when they captured him. A couple of articles on him can be found here, here, and here.
More info on the above serial killers can be found in Kenneth Isserson’s book Demon Doctors.
Handel, D. (2004). DEMON DOCTORS: PHYSICIANS AS SERIAL KILLERS. By Kenneth V. Iserson. Tuscon, Galen Press, 2002, 441 pages, $28.95. Journal of Emergency Medicine, 26 (2), 261-262 DOI: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2003.12.007
Swanger, Andrew J (1998). Japanese scientists conducted biological research experiments.. World War II, 13 (2).
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